Susan Fromberg Schaeffer

"The Snow Fox"

(Reviewed by Mary Whipple JAN 10, 2005)

In this most romantic of novels, Susan Fromberg Schaeffer recreates eleventh century court life in Japan, revealing the refined aesthetic sensibilities and the bloodthirsty brutality, the sense of honor and the petty jealousies, the samurai code and the human need for love. In language which compliments the spare writing style of ancient poetry, she reveals the everyday lives of the courtiers, their relationships within the court, and their behavior during times of crisis--war, plague, sudden illness, and changes of fortune--concentrating especially on two characters--Lady Utsu, reputedly the most beautiful (and dangerous) woman in the court, and Lord Matsuhito, who comes to her as her bodyguard and soon falls in love with her.

As in all romances, the course of love never runs smoothly. Lord Matsuhito goes off to war almost immediately after the love story begins, and returns, a samurai, to find her missing. She, accompanied only by her pet fox, is in seclusion, believing that she is destined to kill everyone she has ever loved. As the setting alternates between Lady Utsu and Lord Matsuhito, and between the court and the countryside, the author broadens her scope, incorporating bandits, peddlers, farmers, and wanderers, along with their daily activities, lifestyles, and concerns, bringing the eleventh century vibrantly to life.

Epic in scope, the novel contains many of the magical elements common to both epics and romances. It is a story of "lost children," heroism in warfare, unknown identities, and two lovers who may be fated to be together, at the same time that it is also the story of secret messages, dreams and memories coming to life, hidden treasure, coincidences galore, unexpected rescues, animals with human abilities and understanding, and even nature itself helping the heroes.

Though lovers of well written romance may not care about a few weaknesses, some readers may be distracted by the way the story moves from reality to dream and back, sometimes without warning or explanation. The circumstances surrounding a battle and the significance of the outcome are not always clear, and the main characters sometimes seem to ramble around the countryside without much purpose. The dialogue frequently sounds wooden, and the constant foreshadowing of the future can be distracting: "Her comment caused a chill to steal over [him], as if the sun had gone behind a cloud," and "A hawk was circling. Someone would die soon." Still, the novel beautifully evokes a lost time, when nature was pure, heroes had deeply held values and allegiances, and art and poetry were a natural part of everyone's life. They are certainly part of this novel.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 14 reviews


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About the Author:

author photoSusan Fromberg Schaeffer was born in Brooklyn, New York and educated at the University of Chicago, where she received her Ph. D. in 1966.

She lives in Chicago and in Vermont and teaches at the University of Chicago.

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